Who would you rather have to build a new team around, LeBron James or Stephen Curry?
It’s a simple question, but one many people aren’t inclined to ask. They might not feel that it’s worth posing. Curry has problems getting people to accept him as an all-time great; LeBron is in the conversation, neck and neck with Michael Jordan, to be the greatest NBA player of all time.
On many levels, you can understand why some don’t want to entertain this notion. James has four MVPs. He has been to six straight NBA Finals.
Sure, this run has come in the Eastern Conference, which has been noticeably inferior to the Western Conference, where Steph plays, for about two decades. But really think about what we’re saying here.
The East has 15 teams, many of them quality squads. And the yet the fate of the entire conference still comes down to asking one question: Is LeBron on your team? If he is, you’re reaching the NBA Finals. If he’s not, you’re out of luck.
That this is where we’ve been at with James, for near a decade, is absolutely, positively astounding—something we’ve never seen in the modern NBA, not with Jordan breaking up his career into two segments. The championship conversation is inherently exclusive, and LeBron has managed to close it even further, turning it into his own personal plaything. It doesn’t matter that the East cedes status to the West; this is a feat unlikely any other.
And then there’s the sheer matter of LeBron’s play style. He doesn’t average a triple-double like Russell Westbrook, but he’s a daily triple-double threat. And unlike Curry, if he put his mind to it for an entire season, he could enter the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. It says a lot that his crowning career moment is a chase-down block on Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
If you’re still not sold on LeBron as a greatest-of-all-time candidate, consider this: There have been 12 seasons through which a player averaged at least 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and one steal per game, according to Basketball-Reference.
LeBron has seven of them.
Yes, it’s true. LeBron has cleared those statistical touchstones more than everyone else in NBA history…combined. He is, without question, the most talented player the Association has ever seen, bar none. So of course no one would blame you for picking him over Curry. We’re at the point of his career in which even the most obstinate detractors cannot fault you for rolling with him instead of His Airness.
Under no circumstances, though, can this be viewed as a knock against Curry. To the contrary, that we’re asking this question at all is a testament to his own mystique. There have been times when his overall value, on an individual level, has matched or exceeded LeBron’s.
Take the below graphic, for example. It shows the 30 most productive seasons in NBA history, as determined by the points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks a player averaged per 100 possessions, plus his true shooting percentage—the combined measurement of two-point, three-point and free-throw efficiency. As you’ll see, while LeBron appears here five times, including this season, Curry’s best year-long effort, in 2015-16, actually outstrips the defining campaign from his counterpart in 2015-16.
What you’ll also notice is that five of the 30 best per-possession seasons ever, as denoted by player faces, come from the latest crusade. First and foremost, this is absurd. But it also proves that the game has never been better, never been teeming with more star power, than it is today.
And if Curry, by these combined metrics, put forth the second-greatest season of all time, what does that say about him? Especially when some of these categories, mainly blocks and rebounds, don’t favor him as much as others?
No, on a macro scale, this isn’t enough to say that Curry is better than LeBron.
It is, however, more than enough to justify picking Curry over LeBron right now, as a hypothetical general manager who is building a team from scratch to compete not just immediately, but for years to come.